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February 14, 2017

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Experts comment on Warburtons’ £2m fine

Last month national bread makers Warburtons was fined £2million after a worker was hospitalised with a fractured spine following a fall. Here, SHP asks some experts in law for their opinion on the case to see if this level of fine is becoming the norm.

The incident

On 11 November 2013 Andrew Sears was cleaning one of the mixing machines at their Wednesbury bakery, a routine job he carried out every few weeks, when he lost his footing and fell nearly two metres.

The father-of-one, who had worked at the factory since 2007, was hospitalised with a compression fracture in his spine. He was not able to return to work until December 2014 but was unable to continue in his old role and was dismissed in December 2015 after another long period of sick leave.

Health and safety failings

The Health and Safety Investigation found that Warburtons Limited routinely expected their workers to access the top of the mixers to clean them. The workers were often unbalanced and would brace themselves to stop from falling. The workers were not adequately supervised and there had been no training on how the mixer needed to be cleaned at height. The company failed to control the risk of falls from height when carrying out this routine cleaning activity.


Previous health and safety failings for Warburtons

The company has previously been prosecuted for safety failings after a maintenance worker seriously injured his hand when it was drawn into a conveyor at a Newcastle factory. 

The 41-year-old, of Hebburn, South Tyneside, was attempting to identify a fault on a hot tin slat conveyor belt at Warburtons’ premises on the Newburn Industrial Estate when the incident happened on 22 October 2013. 

He was lying on the floor holding a torch, which clipped the conveyor knocking it out of his hand. As he reached out to re-grab the torch, his hand was drawn into the roller on the underside of the machinery. 

He suffered an open fracture to his right hand and tissue damage, which required surgery. He was off work for more than two months.

The case, which took place before the 2016 sentencing guidelines, resulted in a £5,000 fine and £1,162.50 in costs, after the company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. 



Warburtons Limited, Hereford Street, Bolton, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulation 2005 and was fined £2million and ordered to pay costs of £19,609.28.

A Warburtons spokesman said: “We take the health and safety of all our people very seriously and are deeply saddened that on this occasion our procedures failed to protect Andrew.

“We have taken the necessary steps to prevent this happening again and will continue to review all health and safety procedures across our business.

HSE inspector Mahesh Mahey said “This case highlights how important it is for companies to fully assess the risks from work activities at height and to take appropriate action to prevent injury in the workplace. This should have been prevented, falls from height is one of the biggest killers in the workplace and even falls from fairly low levels can be extremely dangerous. Mr Sears life has been changed forever but he his injuries could have been more severe.”

Expert opinion:

SHP spoke to three experts to find out their opinions on the case:

Augustin Kizzy

Kizzy Augustin, Pinsent Masons LLP: “It is extremely interesting to see how large firms such as Warburtons are being sentenced for what we once viewed in the industry as ‘straight forward’ health and safety cases. Defendants are starting to take the risk of receiving huge fines seriously and are being proactive about the management of health and safety to avoid these tricky prosecutions. Warburtons have experienced the full impact of the 2016 sentencing guidelines – they were prosecuted in late 2014 for safety failings in respect of an operative who suffered long term injury to his hand and they received a £5000 fine, as opposed to the £2 million fine in 2017 they received for this fall from height that also resulted in long term injuries to an operative. It is unfortunate that Warburtons have had to learn an expensive lesson, both in terms of financial penalty and reputation.”


Simon Joyston Bechal

Dr Simon Joyston-Bechal, Turnstone Law: “This is another very large fine, which shows how the sentencing guidelines have escalated punishments for health and safety breaches.  What’s most interesting and little appreciated is that the fine would not have been much lower even without any injury – just from the breach and the risk.”



kevin bridgesKevin Bridges, Pinsent Masons LLP: “£2million or several millions of pounds generally is becoming the norm for large companies since the Sentencing Guidelines came in to effect a year ago. It doesn’t matter what industry or sector you are in – manufacturing, construction, energy or facilities management etc – convicted companies can expect these seven figure fines even after entering a guilty plea. It is also noteworthy that these fines are routinely being seen for non-fatal accidents given the guidelines are risk based, not harm based.


“It is also interesting that fines of this magnitude are being handed down for breaching Regulations, such as the Work at Height Regulations, Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations and Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, rather than the general duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (the “1974 Act”), whereas historically you might expect to receive lower fines for breaches of the Regulations. It certainly seems as if prosecutors are charging duty holders more frequently with the stricter offences under the Regulations rather than under the 1974 Act as a result”



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Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp
7 years ago

The disparity between the fines of 2014 for £5,000 and the more recent case, £2 million, is all too clear. Fines of this magnitude will definately make companies sit up and take notice. H&S practitioners have argued for a long time that fines were disporportionate to the offence – for a law to be effective it must have a commensurate punishment. If, as I suspect, companies will now invest properly in h&s management we will see a significant reduction in serious injuries and fatalities in the future. With regards to Simon’s comments, the real difference which still exists is that… Read more »

Andrew Essex
Andrew Essex
7 years ago

There are still many many companies out there that at this point have not been ‘found out’? Companies expect certain tasks to be done in a way that is not conducive to good health and safety as in this case, after all the WAH Regs haven’t been out for long have they? They don’t affect us do they? Whilst there in no record of an accident occurring these ‘such jobs’ will continue to be done in ‘old fashioned, unsafe ways’, for that very reason. And as long as no one is injured (or observed during a visit from the enforcing… Read more »

David Williams
David Williams
7 years ago

Although it sounds a lot, I don’t think this is such a large fine, actually. Warburton’s annual turnover, as far as I can ascertain, is in the region of at least £550 million. A £2 million fine therefore represents a little over 0.36% of their annual turnover, which is a little less than one and half days’ takings. A comparable fine (0.36% of annual turnover) for a smaller company, with an annual turnover of £50 million, would have been approximately £180,000. It is interesting to compare Warburton’s fine with the suggested fine ranges for individuals convicted of breaches of health… Read more »

Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp
7 years ago
Reply to  David Williams

Good point and well made. The problem with using turnover as a metric for fines is that it does not properly reflect the profit of an organisation. Hence you can have high turnover, low profit and vice versa. In the SC consultation document I argued that profit after tax should be used as a benchmark, which properly reflects the operating profit as opposed to revenue. In construction the net profit after tax is typically three percent or less. The other problem which I also raised is the £50m benchmark for very large companies is too low. Organisations with a turnover… Read more »

7 years ago

“This compares with the ?2M fine this year for a fall that also resulted in long-term injuries to an operative. It is unfortunate that Warburtons has had to learn an expensive lesson, both in terms of financial penalty and reputation,”